President hold talks with political figures
President U Thein Sein held rare talks on April 8 with about 40 political figures including opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as she intensifies efforts to amend a clause in the constitution that makes her ineligible for the presidency, AFP newsagency reported.
The long-awaited talks in Nay Pyi Taw, which follow a similar meeting of key political figures in October, come as the country braces for elections seen as a key test of reforms in the former junta-run nation.
The closed-door talks – attended by the President, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, parliamentary speaker Thura U Shwe Mann and a few dozen other political figures – touched on a landmark draft ceasefire agreement forged the previous week with several ethnic armed groups, Information Minister U Ye Htut told reporters.
The NLD is expected to win by a landslide in the election in November, the first nationwide vote that the party will have contested in 25 years.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has received a wide range of support, including from US President Barack Obama, for her campaign to amend the clause in the constitution that makes her ineligible for the presidency because of a foreign spouse or children. Her two sons are British, as was her late husband. The NLD has decried the constitution as “unjust” and the clauses on eligibility for the presidency written specifically to keep her out of power.
Observers say she has accepted that it is unlikely she will be able to become president at this time.
Last year the NLD said it gained five million signatures – about 10 percent of the population – in support of its bid to change another provision of the constitution that gives the military an effective veto over constitutional amendments. A vote to amend the constitution needs the support of more than 75 percent of the parliament in which non-elected military MPs hold 25 percent of the seats.
The army has indicated it will oppose any efforts to significantly change the constitution.
The country’s powerful parliamen- tary speaker, Thura U Shwe Mann, last year ruled out any major changes to the constitution before the November polls, despite mooting a possible referendum as early as May on amendments approved by parliament.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had previously pushed for “four-party” talks on the democratic transition, involving herself, President U Thein Sein, Tatmadaw Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and Thura U Shwe Mann.
The President has resisted those calls, saying it would exclude ethnic minorities.
The former general has set his sights on an end to the ethnic insurgencies that have plagued the country for about 60 years as a key goal of his tenure.
The draft national ceasefire agreement signed by the government and armed ethnic groups on March 31 was hailed as a historic first step. The agreement awaits formal approval from the ethnic armed groups. [Kelly Macnamara] (AFP)